In a Nutshell
Cannonball & Husk infiltrate an anti-mutant cult to rescue their sister.
Writer: Terry Kavanagh
Penciler: Bryan Hitch
Inker: Bob McLeod
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras
Cannonball arrives at the Massachusetts Academy to pick up his sister Husk. Accompanied by Storm, Bishop, and Wolverine, they return to their family home in the wake of their sister Joelle falling in with a militant anti-mutant cult called Humanity's Last Stand, thanks in large part to her boyfriend, a man known as Preacher, who paints the strange visions he experiences. Hoping to blend in, Cannonball & Husk infiltrate the group's compound, leaving the other X-Men behind. They find their sister, and Husk continues to explore the complex while Cannonball tries to talk some sense into their sister. However, the two mutants catch the attention of the group's shadowy leader, and Cannonball is attacked by armored agents of the group. Meanwhile, Husk gets deeper into the complex, and overhears a conversation with the group's leader. She is found out, however, and badly beaten. Meanwhile, Cannonball manages to escape and comes crashing into his mother's home, where he entreats the rest of the X-Men to help him rescue his sisters. He leads them back to the complex, and while Cannonball rescues Husk, Bishops finds Joelle and Preacher while Storm & Wolverine battle the group's armored operatives. During the fight, Wolverine realizes they're actually Nimrod Sentinels, and Preacher disappears. Ultimately, Bishop is able to turn the energy of the Nimrods against them, but the X-Men are forced to leave when the local authorities are called, though they leave with both Husk & Joelle, and Cannonball is pleased to have at least exposed the truth of the place, which he believes will change the minds of some of the group's members. Joelle just hopes the still-missing Preacher will remember her. Preacher, meanwhile, is painting a canvas of Joelle.
Firsts and Other Notables
The shadowy figure seen leading Humanity's Last Stand with the name Trask is Simon Trask, brother of original Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask (and uncle to secret mutant Larry Trask), making his first appearance (though he's never fully shown here). A minor member of the extended Trask/"anti-mutant bigots who build off each other's work in creating killer robots" family, Simon Trask will make a few scattered appearances in the 90s (including an issue of the Magneto/Joseph limited series and a Punisher story, of all things) and get dusted off during the "Dark Reign"/Utopia era in the late 00s.
Like Trask, the organization/cult he's leading, Humanity’s Last Stand, appear here for the first time, and it too will pop up in a few places over the next couple years, usually alongside Trask, as well as in next year's annual. It is a different anti-mutant organization than the similarly-named Friends of Humanity, which is led by Graydon Creed. You'll be forgiven if you mix up your "ironically using the term 'friend' because they're actually morally evil" mid-90s anti-mutant hate groups.
Their use of Nimrods in this issue seems overblown (as they don't put up the kind of fight one would expect) and have been largely ignored by the larger Nimrod narrative.
As with the other '95 annuals, this is a double-sized issue with a wraparound cover. It's last few pages are dedicated to a series of X-Men "timelines", showcasing a specific character (featuring original character art by Gary Frank) and illustrating notable events in their history with a little text blurb and art sourced from the relevant issue. As backmatter in annuals go, they're pretty neat, and I wish more of them had appeared elsewhere in a similar fashion.
The Chronology Corner
This issue takes place after Uncanny X-Men #326 and Wolverine #96, before X-Force #48, and between Generation X #9 and Generation X '95.
A Work in Progress
Cannonball hasn’t entirely let go of his animosity towards the White Queen, a nice acknowledgement of their history and her role as the headmaster of his teenage rivals (whom he also blames for the deaths of most of the same rivals).
Preacher has seen visions of the Age of Apocalypse, and presents it as a worse case scenario for humanity.
Joelle Guthrie has seemingly extended her resentment to Sam & Paige for getting out/leaving the family behind to all mutants.
Paige’s accent comes back when she gets scared.
Preacher can somehow tell that Bishop has seen the Age of Apocalypse too.
When Cannonball is exposed as a mutant at the Humanity's Last Stand complex, a mob forms and quickly attacks him.
There are some seeds of a good story here. Tensions within the Guthrie family, between the ones who "got out" and the kids left behind to help take care of the family, are always a source for good character-based drama and an effective use of the mutant metaphor (where being a mutant/superhero is a stand-in for going off to college, say). The conflict between the more cosmopolitan (and racially-diverse) X-Men and the locals, an idea mentioned in passing via dialogue, has some potential (if handled carefully). The idea of a human from a family of mutants falling in with a mutant-hating cult has some legs. An exploration of the Trask legacy, certainly. Someone from outside the immediate world of the the X-Men learning about the Age of Apocalypse could be a neat way to reference that story in a unique way.
Unfortunately, Terry Kavanagh probably isn't the best writer to try and tackle all (or any of) those ideas, nor is a single issue (even an extra-large one like this) enough space to really do any of those plots, let all alone all of them at once, justice. The end result is an issue that just sort of skims along on the surface of (multiple) deeper stories, committing to none and therefore never really managing to be about anything. Thankfully, this issue gains some heft from the art by Bryan Hitch which is quite nice (even from a young Hitch), so it's not quite a complete waste (and is probably the best of the '95 annuals thus far, though that's damning with faint praise), but it's still hard to receive this issue with little more than a shrug, and a wonder of "what if?" regarding the various story ideas it raises, but never really addresses.
Next week, Unstacking the Deck takes a look at the fourth series of Marvel Masterpieces.
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